Traverse City Record-Eagle


May 1, 2014

Stapleton set for hearing

BEULAH — An Elberta mother accused of trying to kill her autistic daughter will appear in court after officials completed a report that could pave the way for an insanity defense.

Kelli Rai Stapleton, 46, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder in 19th Circuit Court. Authorities said she tried to kill herself and her daughter Issy, 14, on Sept. 3 by igniting two charcoal grills inside an enclosed van.

A trial had been scheduled for April, but Stapleton’s defense attorneys put that on hold when they requested a criminal responsibility evaluation.

Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson said the non-public report came back last week and triggered the case’s first court date in months, a May 6 status conference. She said she can’t comment on its contents.

“I can’t talk about anything that’s in it,” she said.

Stapleton’s attorney Brian Johnson didn’t return a call for comment.

A state psychologist in December found Stapleton mentally fit to stand trial. The criminal responsibility evaluation differs in that it focuses on her state of mind during her alleged criminal actions, a key question in an insanity defense.

Court records show prosecutors on April 21 filed a rebuttal of an insanity defense. Swanson said proving a defendant had an intent to kill is an important part of an attempted murder charge.

“With the insanity defense they will have to show she could not form the criminal intent,” she said. “I have to prove there was intent.”

Authorities said Stapleton made statements after being pulled from the van that years of frustration with her daughter’s autism and behavior led her to believe the best solution would be if they “went to heaven,” according to a court transcript.

Both Kelli and Issy Stapleton suffered carbon monoxide poisoning, but Issy lingered in a coma for days and awoke with permanent brain damage. Issy’s aunt Sarah Ross said her recovery continues at home.

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